Concerns over ‘sensationalist coverage’ of violent crime

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Concerns have been raised regarding ‘sensationalist coverage’ of violent crime in the media, with authorities urging media institutions to be more cautious when reporting such incidents.

A series of incidents where suspects are alleged to have violently killed members of their immediate family, including mothers and fathers, have been covered extensively in the media during the past month. However, concerns have been raised whether such detailed reporting of the crimes themselves are adding to the problem.

When contacted, Police Spokesman ASP Ruwan Gunasekara told The Nation that the number of homicides reported so far this year was actually down from the number reported during the same period last year. “However, several murders committed this year have gained wide media attention specifically due to the reason that the victims were all immediate family members of the suspects,” he explained.

Regarding sensationalist coverage, ASP Gunasekara also noted how some media had initially made references to a ‘serial killer’ after the most recent murder of a woman at Kotakethana in Kahawatta, despite police insisting that this was not the case.

When queried whether such things were occurring due to a lack of regulation or guidelines for the media to follow, Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media and Parliamentary Affairs, Karunaratne Paranavithana said it was not due to lack of guidelines, but rather due to media institutions usually preferring to ignore such guidelines completely. While no Code of Ethics currently exists for the country’s electronic media, sections of the print media were ignoring even the Code of Professional Practice introduced by the Editor’s Guild of Sri Lanka, he added.

“The onus is on the editors and heads of these media institutions to report such matters in a manner that respects ethical guidelines on reporting. The Ministry for its part has made its displeasure known to certain state media institutions regarding the way they have reported on such crimes,” Paranavithana said.

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